You can’t measure the value of a lost opportunity.

You can’t measure the value of a lost opportunity.

I get ROI. In fact I pretty much live and die by ROI. My golden rule is it makes you money or what’s the point. My clients aren’t charities, and even if they were, they’d want ROI from their marketing, so don’t for a moment think that I’m anything but an ROI fanatic. But here’s the problem, marketing isn’t that linear, and the means of delivering the ROI isn’t a simple equation of 2+2=4. In fact sometimes 2+2=a furby.

There’s a lot of science in marketing. After all the world has been doing this stuff for awhile. We know an awful lot about what works and what doesn’t. And anyone who doesn’t go to the trouble of learning their history will be doomed to repeat its mistakes. So you must know the nuts and bolts before you do anything else. But once you’ve done that, you then start to get into the hazy areas. Marketing’s #1 mandate is differentiate. To be different isn’t easy. In fact throughout history people have been treated exceptionally poorly for voicing different ideas (Copernicus springs to mind). And it’s no different today - clients want ROI, which is fine, but they need to understand that this isn’t accounting. You can’t guarantee anything in a competitive world, and you can’t follow a simple formula to beat sophisticated competition.

Smart clients need to realise that you are commssioning a creative agency to be creative. If you go to a creative agency expecting them to give you what you want, you’ve got it all backwards. You go to a creative agency to tell you how to achieve your desired outcomes. And if that agency doesn’t tell you to do something that makes you feel awkward, they’re not doing their job.

Which brings me to the headline. You can’t measure the value of a lost opportunity. If you could, it would be easier for the bean counters. But you can’t. You can’t tell 100% whether a stimulus package saved your economy after a recession, and you can’t tell 100% if creating a bad brand is costing you money. But I’m here to tell you that it is. I can’t prove it, but I’m right.

Differentiation is tough. And the creative process is mysterious. I love Steve Jobs approach that ‘People don’t know what they want until I tell them”. When we build brands, we’re taking a similar approach. We look at the competition, we look for a vacuum in the market that we can fill, and then we fill it with the most memorable, dramatic thing we can devise.

Now your friends and family will think we’re nuts. They’ll want a brand that tells people what you do. But I’m gonna crank up the arrogance meter here and say that they don’t know what I know. 30 years of marketing ought to teach you something unless you’re a complete moron, and telling a marketing professional to do the exact opposite of what he knows is true is like telling your surgeon he should reattach your Achilles heel by going in through your nose.

The answer you want from your family and friends is ‘WTF?’ That’s what I’m looking for. I want them mystified by my decision. They should be. They have no idea why I’ve done what I’ve done, or why it’s going to work. So they should be confused. They don’t know what I know. And frankly, having people curious about why your brand has been done a certain way is a badge of honour, not a failing. And if nothing else, curiosity is a great place to start in marketing (as long as the curiosity isn’t so dense that the response from the market is “Who cares?”)

So back to my headline. The bottom line is that the ramifications of bad decisions might be invisible to the naked eye, but they’re there. Bad brands, bad websites, bad marketing collateral, bad salespeople, bad signage, bad product development - they all hurt you. I can’t tell you how much, but they are. And like compound interest in the bank, compound stupidity in marketing is a powerful force. You might get away with getting one thing wrong, maybe even two. But if you keep tripping over your own shoelaces, and you’re 3 years into a business that’s going nowhere, don’t be surprised. The value of a missed opportunity (which can also be read as the negative value of your marketing mistakes) can be deadly.

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